Philadelphia 76ers take big leap to seed in the East with win over Brooklyn Nets

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Before the Philadelphia 76ers clash with the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night to see who would finish atop the Eastern Conference at the end of the night, Sixers coach Doc Rivers was asked if he had made any moves. securing the seed in the East a priority for his team this season.

“We really didn’t talk much about it,” Rivers said. “We’re just talking about winning games. “

Then the truth came out.

“It would clearly be nice to have,” he said.

There’s no question the significance of Philadelphia’s 123-117 victory over the shorthanded Nets on Wednesday night – a win that put the Sixers firmly in the driver’s seat to claim first place in the Eastern Conference.

Philadelphia made it a lot harder than it had to be to secure the win, almost losing a 22-point lead eight minutes from time to time before hanging on to win against the Brooklyn Reserves, but ultimately the Sixers were won the victory – one that moved them. a game ahead of the Nets with 17 games remaining for both teams. He also won the series of the season for Philadelphia, which turns that one-game advantage into a two-game advantage.

“We made a bunch of mistakes,” said Joel Embiid, who put in his last dominant performance of the season with 39 points, 13 rebounds and two blocked shots in 33 minutes. “We returned the ball defensively. We didn’t have the concentration we had all night. It cannot happen if we are a team that wants to compete for a championship. “

Frustrations about the side end, the Sixers got what they wanted. And, coupled with the Nets facing an assortment of injuries and also facing a much tougher schedule (fourth harder) than the Sixers (seventh easier), the way is now officially clear for Philadelphia to control its destiny. to the East. .

« [It’s] very important, ”said Ben Simmons. We want one seed. “

The most important reason is the much simpler path he traces to escape the East – something the Sixers hope to do for the first time in 20 years. With three elite teams in the East – Philadelphia, Brooklyn and the Milwaukee Bucks – to hold that seed means only having to beat one of those teams to reach the NBA Finals.

And, against them, that would also mean having the edge on the pitch in the Eastern Conference Finals. Conversely, finishing second or third probably means having to eliminate two of the best teams to advance to the final, with one or both series having no advantage on the field.

But, for this Philadelphia team in particular, there is added importance to maintaining that advantage on the field: The Sixers play better at home than any team in the league.

Since Embiid and Simmons began playing together in the 2017-18 season, the Sixers have gone 111-28 – a 79.9 percent winning percentage – in games at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

The league’s second-best team in that span, the Denver Nuggets, have won just over 75% of their home games – and have the advantage of playing those games at a higher altitude.

“When you play in Philadelphia, [the fans are] go push yourself, “said Embiid. They will take it from you. They will hoot you. You have to go out and give 110%, play real hard and give them all you’ve got. I feel like since I’ve been here in Philadelphia this has played a huge role in our dominance at home. “

And while voracious Philadelphia fans undoubtedly played a part in that success – and clearly fueled Embiid, in particular, who has always thrived on their energy – the Sixers have always been a leading team in the Eastern Conference. with 23-5 this season. in the home, although these fans are largely kept away from the building.

“I think we’re comfortable at home,” Rivers said. “I guess it’s surprising this year without the fans. I can understand with the fans, but without the fans we were also very successful. “

That success continued on Wednesday night – although it’s hard to take much away from a game that saw Kevin Durant, James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin all in formal attire for Brooklyn. Kyrie Irving (37 points on a 13-for-21 shot, plus 9 assists) was brilliant, and DeAndre Jordan played as well as you might expect against Embiid.

Embiid was dominant and continued his season parade all the way to the foul line going 10-11 from the charity strip. It was a reminder both of how dominant Embiid was against everyone when he was on the pitch this season, and how perfectly suited he was to attack Brooklyn’s soft underbelly defensively.

But Embiid, for as good as he has been, isn’t the only thing that drove Philadelphia’s success – and wasn’t the only person leading it on Wednesday night. Tobias Harris had another high-impact, high-efficiency game (26 points on an 11-for-17 shot), both of which were steadfast for him in what has easily been his best NBA season. Simmons remains one of the league’s elite defensemen and Seth Curry and Danny Green provided everything Philadelphia hoped for by trading Josh Richardson and Al Horford for them respectively during the offseason.

As a result, this five-man unit is now 20-4 this season after Wednesday’s win and beat opponents by 14 points per 100 possessions in almost 500 minutes on the court. Meanwhile, George Hill – the team’s main trade deadline pickup – still hasn’t played due to a broken bone in his hand before the deal was struck.

All of this gives Philadelphia the confidence that they can finally break through and return to the league championship round. He took an important step towards that goal on Wednesday night.

“We just have to manage our business nights and our parties,” Harris said. “We have to be ready for the challenge every night. ”

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